Haute Route on the Horizon pt.III – An idiot’s guide to how to prepare: Your Bike (A guide written by an idiot)

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About ‘Haute Route on the Horizon’

I’ve written up more fully here what all this is about, but essentially I’m trying to provide a little insght into how you can best prepare yourself for an Haute Route based purely on my experience of riding HR Alps 2015, from general riding and training, and from recycling knowledge from a lot of reading and researching. Once again, these come with the following warning:

Health and safety caveat: Please note I am not a coach, nutritionist or psychologist… I can only just call myself a cyclist. So none of this comes with academic or trained weight, just my experience. Remember mutton is best taken with a pinch of salt!

I’m breaking down my list of tips and insights into a few different blog posts, broadly on the themes of:

So, chronology dictates it’s time for  part three.

 

 

YOUR BIKE

Weight

20071022-bike_acc_ult_scaleSome people obsess about the weight of their bike. Don’t.  A lightweight bike is important for pros, where seconds can mean the difference between winning and being the fastest loser, but for over-enthusiastic amateurs, a few grams here and there means nothing.

Obviously you want a reasonably lightweight bike, but spending hundreds of pounds to save 100g on a new set of handlebars is flushing money down the toilet. Do you know how much a 650ml bidon filled with water is?

Not interested? I don’t care, I’m going to tell you anyway – around 500g. So, once you’ve stopped off at that feedstation and filled both bottles, you’ve added a kilo to your ride, and your £100s invested in the lightest components has vanished.

Make sure you’ve got yourself a nice reasonably light bike, but don’t get too obsessed.  If anything, stiffness of the frame is just as important.

HOWEVER, if you have got cash to burn…

I say to everyone I know that if I had £500-£1000 to invest with a view to improving performance on the Haute Route, I’d invest it in one or the other of:

Wheels

Contrary to what I said above, having nice light wheels is worth the money.

There’s some fancy science about how weight that rotates affects momentum and overall moving mass (or something), which basically means that you will gain exponentially from having lightweight wheels. And make sure they’ve got a nice braking surface, preferably not carbon. Carbon rims can very easily overheat if you’re braking a lot, and then your tube may go !BANG! as you’re heading down the Tourmalet at 90kph.

OR

A power meter – but know how to use it

A power meter will enable you to understand exactly how hard you can push over certain timespans, and so will be invaluable in helping you pace yourself on both a day by day, and climb by climb basis.

Unfortunately, with only around five or six weeks til the mountains, it may be a little late to rush off and buy a power meter now.I say that as it’s best to allow yourself some time with your new toy in advance of Haute Route – you need a few weeks to ensure that you’ve got your threshold power and power zones accurate. If you work to a power that’s too high, you’re bolloxed. And if you work to a power that’s too low, you’ll do bollocks when you could have achieved more.

That said, if you’ve got a lot of riding time to spare before Haute Route and so can get everything set up correctly, go for it! Provided you fully understand the data coming out of it, and you’re sure you’re using it wisely, the power meter will be your most invaluable tool of the week.

Consider your gearing

grandma
Best picture ever?!?

This is all a bit down to personal preference and riding style, however, you can never have too many gears. You definitely want to have at least a 28 on the back. I go with an 11-28 casssette, and if my rear mech could take more, I would consider a 30.

On the front, I’d suggest a compact 50/34, making your granny gear at least a 34-28. I did the Haute Route Alps 2015 on a 36-28 granny gear. You want to be spinning up those climbs, not grinding, or your legs will never forgive you.

A 36 chain ring is just about doable in the Alps, but in the Pyrenees and Dolomites, where gradients get more unpleasant, you’re more than likely going to need a 34 on the front, or at least a dinner plate on the back to give a similar amount of gear inches (I won’t pretend I know how to calculate these). The 36-28 was just about doable in the Alps for a lightweight like me, but it was far from ideal, leaving me grinding up some of the steeper cols with the least panache imaginable.

The only downside of having a 50/34 and 11-28 set up is  that your biggest gear for descending or super fast sections is a 50-11, which can leave you spinning out. However, I’d prefer it to be like that than to be crawling up a col at 60rpm. And spinning out forces you to take measures that help you recover quicker – getting more aero on a descent, getting right onto people’s wheels in groups etc.

Bike fit

No matter what you do, make sure you have a professional bike fit. You should have had one already really. If you’ve got no money spare, sell your kids and the copper from your pipes to raise the cash. Having a correct bike fit is essential. It’s expensive, but worth every penny, and more.

Not only will you ride faster and in a more comfortable fashion on a correctly fitting bike, but you will save yourself from a treasure-trove of potential injuries. You’re going to be on your bike for around 30 hours in the week. You need to make sure that what you’re sitting on works for you. You don’t wear a pair of jeans that’s so tight you’re uncomfortable do you (unless you live in East London)? Exactly.

Get a service

You want your bike to be purring smoothly.

You don’t want any mystery noises when you ride, any dodgy gear shifting, or any sticky brakes. Your brake pads should be nice and fat, your tyres clean and unspoiled, and your derailleuers working nice and smooth.  Ensure you get to your LBS (not a big chain shop) before you go and make sure she’s 100%. It’s probably worth you getting a new cassette and chain whilst you’re at it.

And give her a good clean too! Clean bikes are more aero, remember?

Bar Tape

Most people climb mountains on the tops predominantly. Get some nice fresh tape that feels nice. You’re going to spend a lot of time gripping it over those seven days.

Bottle Cages

Make sure you have two. Duh.

AND MOST IMPORTANTLY… Give her a name

You’re going to spend a lot of time on your bike, and hopefully you love her (remember, bikes are girls, always). Give her a name.

Love her. Crave time with her. Keep her clean and know all her nooks and crannies. Try not to fall out with her.

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